Teacher Calls Firing Humiliating & Unfair

     BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – A school district refused to give a teacher with multiple sclerosis the key to staff bathrooms and fired him when he used a student restroom to avoid soiling himself, the man claims in court.
     Erick Mendez sued Kern Southern Unified School District and Rosamond High School Principal Harold Roney on Aug. 6 in Kern County Court.
     “It’s mind-boggling,” Mendez’s attorney Nazo Koulloukian told Courthouse News. “I don’t think they even tried to accommodate him – just got rid of him for his condition.”
     Mendez has difficulty with urinary incontinence caused by multiple sclerosis, Koulloukian said.
     Multiple sclerosis targets the central nervous system. Its unpredictable, often progressive symptoms may include weakness, trembling, inability to control parts of the body, and paralysis.
     “It’s a sad case. His condition will only deteriorate over time. It eats away at the body. And he’s only 31, a very young guy,” Koulloukian said.
     Rosamond High School is in Rosamond, an unincorporated community of 18,000 in the southern Antelope Valley near Edwards Air Force Base, just south of Mojave.
     Mendez started working at the high school in September 2013, as a part-time educator for special needs students in the special education department.
     The school district knew when it hired him that he has multiple sclerosis and urinary incontinence, which “required that he be able to use the nearest restroom to his person due to his inability to control his bladder,” according to the complaint.
     But the only staff bathroom he was allowed to use was a women’s bathroom in the high school’s main office. Though he asked for keys to the other staff bathrooms nearer to him, the district refused because he was a part-time employee, according to the lawsuit. So he “occasionally” had to use the student restrooms.
     On Aug. 20, 2014, he was injured while using a stall in a student bathroom, and had to report the injury. Koulloukian said the injury involved a faulty door on the bathroom stall.
     The next day, Mendez says, Roney called him into the principal’s office and told him it was “illegal” for him to use student bathrooms. Mendez explained his condition and said he sometimes had to use the student restrooms to avoid soiling his pants, which had happened at a previous job and was a “traumatic experience’ for him.”
     After hearing the explanation, Mendez says, Roney agreed to give him keys to staff bathrooms if Mendez brought him a doctor’s note, and gave him the rest of the day off to get it.
     Mendez says he got the note, but when he handed it in next day at the office, personnel director Vern Folley refused to take it. Instead, Folley gave him a letter of termination, firing him “without cause.”
     Folley is not a party to the complaint.
     Mendez talked to a union rep, who told him “the school did not have a written policy forbidding adults from using student restrooms,” the complaint states.
     After he was fired the school put up a sign warning adults not to use student bathrooms, but took it down in early September, according to the complaint.
     Mendez says his firing caused him emotional distress, anxiety, worry, severe depression, embarrassment, humiliation, and degradation.
     Koulloukian said there may be a law against teachers using student restrooms, but if so, he has never heard it.
     “I don’t think it was justified. It’s just wrong,” he said. “My heart goes out to him. He’s still unemployed and looking for work, but having trouble finding it because of his condition.”
     The school district did not respond to a request for comment.
     Mendez seeks back pay, front pay, reinstatement, an injunction and compensatory and special damages for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Koulloukian is with the Joseph Farzam Law Firm, in Los Angeles.

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